Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Twitter Technology and the Revolution in Iran

The Revolution Will Be Microblogged: Iran's Election and the Power of Twitter
By Kevin Fayle on June 25, 2009 12:30 PM | No TrackBacks


The events that have unfolded in Iran following the contested
presidential election have transfixed the world. Much of the
information that has come out of (and into) the country has traveled
over social media services as a result of censorship and blocking of
communications systems by the government.

The crisis in Iran has allowed Twitter, the microblogging service, to
mature into a legitimate and important communication tool. Twitter
has played such a prominent role in allowing mobilization and
documentation of the Iranian opposition that the US State Department
at one point even asked the company to put off a scheduled maintenance
so that Iranians could continue using the service.
Iconic images and videos, such as the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan
(warning: the video is graphic and disturbing), have flooded out of
Iran and the protesters have used the service to organize rallies and
spread information. Twitter has also been instrumental in allowing
outsiders to read real-time reports about the events in Iran, all
despite the fact that the government has actively attempted to block
communication of the turmoil to the outside world.

Twitter has become the default method of communication about the
Iranian situation because of one primary characteristic: openness.
Despite the fact that the government has blocked the Twitter site
itself, there are many websites that utilize the Twitter Application
Programming Interface (API) and allow users to read others' tweets and
post their own. The Iranian authorities don't always know about these
sites in order to block them, which allows Iranian citizens to
continue to tweet about the events as they occur.

Those interested in following the unfolding events or tweeting about
something related to the Iranian election can also utilize another
feature of Twitter, called hashtags, in order to read reports on the
election and direct their comments to the right conversation. A
hashtag is basically a keyword with a hash symbol in front of it.
People place hashtags in their tweets in order to make it easier for
others to locate posts on a particular topic, and users of the Twitter
search function can search for those hashtags in order to easily find
the conversation threads they're after.

For example, the two most popular hashtags used to identify a tweet
about the Iran election are #iranelection and #gr88. A message using
one of those hashtags might look something like this: "more protests
in the streets of Tehran #iranelection".

Twitter has definitely had an overall positive influence in the midst
of the Iranian tragedy, but there is also a possibility that the site
could become a tool for the security forces to track down and suppress
those posting to the service. Since data on the internet can live
forever, and since people communicating over the internet leave traces
that they might not be aware of, those Iranians using Twitter should
be cautious, lest they inadvertently identify themselves or those
around them as members of the opposition protest movement.

The success of Twitter in keeping communication flowing in and out of
Iran despite the governments attempts at censorship reveals that
technology can be a powerful tool against oppressive regimes. The
metadata about tweets and the publicity of the messages can also
create danger for those actively using the service to spread news and
organize political protests, however. Like most things in life,
Twitter is a double edge sword that, when used properly, can be a
great benefit. When used carelessly, however, it can lead to woe and

Regimes like those in China and Iran try very hard to control what
their citizens see and do online. Some argue that this violates the
right to freedom of expression guaranteed by several international
treaties, as well as the laws governing international trade. Tools
like Twitter that are difficult for the regimes to control can help to
keep citizens of the countries connected to the outside world, and
give them a voice when the government tries to silence them. This in
turn can help ensure that all individuals can enjoy the rights
guaranteed to them under international law.

See Also:
Tyranny's new nightmare: Twitter (LA Times)
Cyberwar guide for Iran elections (Boing Boing)
HOW TO: Track Iran Election with Twitter and Social Media (Mashable)
Unrest in Iran raises profile for Twitter (MercuryNews.com)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

European Court of Justice: national courts required to examine, of their own motion, unfairness of terms in consumer contracts

Upon reference for preliminary ruling instituted by a Hungarian District Court (Budaőrsi Városi Bíróság), ECJ held that the protection which Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts confers on consumers extends to cases in which a consumer who has concluded with a seller or supplier a contract containing an unfair term fails to raise the unfairness of the term, whether because he is unaware of his rights or because he is deterred from enforcing them on account of the costs which judicial proceedings would involve.

As a consequence, the role of the national court in the area of consumer protection is not limited to a mere power to rule on the possible unfairness of a contractual term, but also consists of the obligation to examine that issue of its own motion, where it has available to it the legal and factual elements necessary for that task, including when it is assessing whether it has territorial jurisdiction.

Where the national court considers such a clause to be unfair, it must not apply it, unless the consumer, after having been informed of it by the court, does not intend to assert its unfairness and non-binding status.

Source: ECJ press release 46/09; full text of judgement C-243/08 - Pannon GSM of June 4th, 2009 available here>>.

Friday, June 26, 2009

USA: Al Anolik discussing cruise-safety on the radio

In an interview with Sandy Dhuyvetter of Travel Talk Radio, Al Anolik, founding member and president emeritus of IFTTA, shared his views on the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act currently pending before the US Congress.

The interview can be read at eTurboNews here>>.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Austria: visit of traditional Krampus event at own risk

At traditional Krampus events in Austria (Krampus = Santa's devilish helper, the guy that punishes the bad kids on St. Nicholas day) -mainly in the western provinces - the the young men of the villages walk and dance through streets disguised as Krampus wearing birchs scaring and incidentally whipping visitors.

Plaintiff who participated in such event as a visitor was hit at her left eye by the stem of a birch dangling from the wrist of a dancing "Krampus". She sued the organizer of the event for compensation for pain and suffering.

Austrian Supreme Court (OGH), however, dismissed the claim: there had been no fault on part of the organizer as the general duty to maintain saftey must not be overdrawn. It would not be reasonable to require the organizer to provide a minder to each of the (250!) Krampusses while it was part of the event that the
Krampusses would mingle with the visitors and have fun scaring them. The risk had been forseeable for plaintiff as visitors usually participate to enjoy the thrill of playing the 'victims' of the Krampus. As the Krampus did not deliberately injure plaintiff but the accident happend as a consequence of his dancing moves it would have been up to herself to care for her safety.

Supreme Court decision 10 Ob 15/08s of 17.03.2009 available in German here>>.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ireland: Non-extension of compulsory licensing to internet sites

The Irish state regulator for tour operators and travel agents has advised the Irish government against extending the statutory compulsory licensing and bonding scheme to internet sellers of travel services.

Report available at http://www.transport.ie/viewitem.asp?id=11263&lang=ENG&loc=432

Reported to IFTTA by Marc Mc Donald

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

USA: travel agents' class action against YTB partly dismissed

Although the U.S. District Court in Illinois did not dismiss the case outright, it granted parts of YTB’s motion to dismiss a class action brought against the multilevel marketing travel company by former referring travel agents, who charged that YTB operated an illegal pyramid system.

The court dismissed allegations against YTB subsidiary Rezconnect and its CEO, Michael Brent, on grounds that the court did not have jurisdiction over the New Jersey-based business.

Source: Travel Weekly; find article here>>.

Spain: refrence for preliminary ruling on Montral Convention in regard to non-material damages

Commercial Court Barcelona (Juzgado de lo Mercantil 4, Barcelona) filed a reference for preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice on whether the limit of liability referred to in Article 22.2 of the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage, signed in Montreal on 28 May 1999, included both non-material damage and material damage resulting from the loss of baggage.

Case C-63/09; Reference published OJ C 102 of 01.05.2009, p.11.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Austria: another reference for preliminary ruling in regard to jurisdiction and website advertising

Plaintiff, a hotel company, is running a hotel in Austria and a related website, the latter also indicating plaintiff's email address. Defendant, a German consumer, had made a room reservation through email. Plaintiff is claiming for payment of room rate and filed a law suit at the Austrian court where the contract was performed. Defendant pleaded there was no jurisdiction in Austria: due to him being a consumer the law suit should have been filed in Germany. The first instance court (BG St. Johann/Pongau) and the court of appeal (LG Salzburg) both dismissed the claim as in their view plaintiff via the website - even though not interactive (and thus not allowing online booking) - had directed commercial l activities to the Member State of the consumer's domicile and as a consequence the claim was subject to German jurisdiction solely.

Upon further appeal of plaintiff, Austrian Supreme Court (OGH) had sufficient doubts to institute a reference for preliminary ruling asking whether Art. 15 of Reg. 44/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters must be interpreted in a way that a website accessable in the Member State of the consumer's domicile and advertising the entrepreneur's commercial activities would suffice to regard these commercial activities being directed to this member state.

OGH's reference for preliminary ruling 6 Ob 24/09m of March 26, 2009 is available for download in German here>>.

Germany: no insurance protection for accident due to excessive sun exposure

During her holidays on the beach, plaintiff doze off under an umbrella. As the shadow moved she got exposed to sunshine for several hours. When she got up she suffered a circular collapse, fell and banged her head against the concrete border of a flowerbed.

Her claim against the accident insurance was dismissed by German Supreme Court (BGH) as due to General Conditions of the insurance contract an exemption apllied to accidents caused by reduced conciousness.

German text of decision IV ZR 219/07 of Sep. 24, 2008 available for download at http://www.bundesgerichtshof.de/.

European Court of Justice: national courts required to examine unfairness of contract terms of their own Motion

Council Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts provides that unfair terms used in a contract concluded with a consumer by a seller or supplier are not binding on consumers. In a decision of June 4th, 2009 (Case C—243/08 - Pannon GSM Zrt. v. Erzsébet Sustikné Győrfi) ECJ held that the protection which the Directive confers on consumers extends to cases in which a consumer who has concluded with a seller or supplier a contract containing an unfair term fails to raise the unfairness of the term, whether because he is unaware of his rights or because he is deterred from enforcing them on account of the costs which judicial proceedings would involve.

As a consequence, the role of the national court in the area of consumer protection is not limited to a mere power to rule on the possible unfairness of a contractual term, but also consists of the obligation to examine that issue of its own motion.Where the national court considers such a clause to be unfair, it must not apply it, unless the consumer, after having been informed of it by the court, does not intend to assert its unfairness and non-binding status.

Source: ECJ press release No 46/09

Friday, June 05, 2009

Action against Italy (ECJ Case C-121/09) re Art 7 PTD

Form of order sought a declaration that the Italian Republic has failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 7 of the ptd

Pleas in law and main arguments

1. By fixing a period of three months from the foreseen date of the end of travel for the purpose of making an application for action by the Guarantee Fund for package travel consumers, the Italian Republic has failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 7 of Directive 90/314.

2. Article 7 of Directive 90/314 provides that the organiser and/or retailer party to the contract is to provide sufficient evidence of security for the refund of money paid over and for the repatriation of the consumer in the event of insolvency. According to the interpretation given in Community case-law, that provision imposes an obligation of result on the Member States, which entails affording the purchaser of package travel the right to effective protection against the risks of the organisers' insolvency and, in particular, the refunding of sums paid over and repatriation.

3. Next, Article 8 allows Member States to adopt more stringent provisions, but only if the latter offer greater consumer protection.

4. In the instant case, the object of the Italian legislation in question, according to information sent by the national authorities during the infringement procedure, is to ensure that the State budget has the opportunity of recovering sums paid to consumers and so of preserving the State's financial interests instead of ensuring greater protection for the purchasers of package travel.

5. Although the Commission understands that Italy has an interest in ensuring the proper balanced running of the Guarantee Fund, making it easier for the latter to bring an action for indemnity against the tour operator, it takes the view that such a measure, by imposing an absolute limit on the presentation of the application for action by the Fund, introduces a condition capable of depriving the consumer of the rights guaranteed by Directive 90/314.

6. It is true, as the Italian authorities maintain, that consumers may make their application for action by the Fund as soon as they are aware of circumstances that threaten to prevent the performance of the contract. However, in order to avail themselves of that opportunity they must be aware of those circumstances. Excluding those cases in which the travel organiser's insolvency is obvious, by reason of a declaration of insolvency, in most cases consumers do not know the exact financial situation of the operator. It is therefore reasonable that they should in the first place turn to the operator to obtain repayment of sums paid, sending it a letter, perhaps a reminder, and finally an order to pay. In that manner there is a risk that the period of three months fixed by Article 5 of Ministerial Decree No 349/1999 may already have long elapsed when the application is made for action by the Fund, with the result that consumers are deprived of the right to obtain the refund of the sums paid.

7. To remedy the infringement alleged in these proceedings, the Italian authorities declared, first, that they wished to extend from three to 12 months the period in which the application may be made and then that they intended to abolish it.

8. In addition, they published in the Official Gazette of the Italian Republic a communication informing potentially interested persons that, pending abolition of the period in question, for the purposes of ensuring consumer protection applications may be made to the Guarantee Fund at any time.

9. The Commission considers that such measures, while a laudable attempt to make good the consequences of the infringement complained of, do not do enough to eliminate the risk that purchasers of package travel may be deprived of their right to effective protection in the event of the organiser's insolvency.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

USA: State Department Alert Signals Hurricane Season

The U.S. State Department has issued its annual alert on the coming of the Hurricane Season in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The official Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June through November. The alert expires on Dec. 4, 2009. It cites officials at the National Weather Service and at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who predict a 50 percent chance that activity during the 2009 Atlantic Hurricane Season will be near-normal this year, forecasting nine to 14 named storms, with four to seven becoming hurricanes and one to three becoming major hurricanes.

For further information see www.travel.state.gov

Germany: another Supreme Court decision on a missed connecting flight

Following its decision of April 30, 2009, German Supreme Court(BGH) in a recent decision of May 28, 2009 (Xa ZR 113/08) confirmed that the miss of a connecting flight due to a delay of the feeding flight does not constitute "denied boarding" under Reg. 261/2004.

Furthermore there was no claim for price reduction based on the delay as a delayed fligth could not be regarded "defective". Plaintiffs therefore could only have sued for compensation of damages caused by the delay, which they, however, had not claimed for.

BGH therefore upheld the dismissal of the claim by the lower courts.

Source: BGH press relase of 28.05.2008; find full text in German here>>.